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Book reviews Primates and Philosophers How Morality Evolved.

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Book Reviews
ENDURING LEGEND. By David J. Daegling. Walnut Creek,
CA: AltaMira Press. 2005. 275 pp. ISBN 0-7591-0539-1.
$24.95 (paper).
York: Tom Doherty. 2006. 299 pp. ISBN 0-565-31216-6.
$27.95 (hardcover).
It’s hard to demonstrate that something doesn’t exist.
Some philosophers insist that it can’t be done. Ludwig
Wittgenstein said as much in a lecture once, whereupon
Bertrand Russell tried to persuade him that there was
no hippopotamus in the room. ‘‘I looked under all the
desks without finding one,’’ complained Russell, ‘‘but he
remained unconvinced’’ (B. Russell [1951] Ludwig Wittgenstein. Mind n.s. 60: 297–98).
Is there a three-meter-tall species of apelike biped—the
sasquatch or Bigfoot—lurking in the forests of the Pacific
Northwest? Nobody has ever fetched home a cadaver or a
skeleton or even a tooth of a sasquatch. But unlike Russell’s hippopotamus, the sasquatch leaves tangible traces
behind in the form of footprints, sitzmarks, and movie
film. In these two books for a general audience, Jeff Meldrum and David Daegling lay out their respective cases
for and against accepting those traces as evidence of an
undiscovered giant primate in the northern woods.
Both authors agree on two points: a lot of Bigfoot
traces have been found and some of them are frauds.
Daegling wants to persuade us that they are all fraudulent and that Bigfoot is a socially constructed myth given
bogus substance by hallucinations and hoaxes. He has
accordingly written a book centered on cultural themes
and the acts and motives of people. Meldrum wants to
convince us that most of the footprints, photos, and so
on are authentic, and so he has written a book centered
on biology and forensics. As a result, most physical
anthropologists will probably be more interested in Meldrum’s subject matter. But I suspect most of us will be
more swayed by Daegling’s arguments.
Meldrum begins with the story of his own sasquatch
encounters, during which fellow enthusiasts took him
into the back country to witness fresh tracks, strange
sounds in the night, and rocks hurled from the bushes
by unseen creatures. Bigfoot or pulled leg? Meldrum is
sensitive to both possibilities, but he leans heavily toward the former. To get the issue of fraud out of the way,
he devotes an early chapter to two self-confessed
hoaxers: Rant Mullens, who started faking Bigfoot prints
as a young forest ranger back in 1928, and Ray Wallace,
who ran the construction site where 14-inch footprints
were found in 1958, leading to the coining of the name
Bigfoot. Meldrum shows that at least some of the ersatz
footprints planted by these two were transparently
phony and that some other tracks are less easily dismissed as artifacts. He retells the tales of big hairy
bipeds in the woods told by Native Americans and early
white settlers, and notes the recent discoveries of other
large mammals that had escaped the attention of scientists. Most of Meldrum’s book is devoted to a forensic
examination of the supposed evidence for the reality of
Bigfoot. This evidence consists mainly of casts of footC 2007
prints, but also includes prints of other parts of the body,
some blurry photographs, and a few home movies, culminating in the celebrated Patterson–Gimlin film that
shows a furry, heavyset humanoid with a gorilla-like
head walking off into the bushes.
Meldrum is convinced that most of this evidence is
legitimate. His argument runs something like this: most
of the supposed sasquatch traces could not have been left
by humans, bears, elk, or other known animals. At least
some of the footprints show anatomical features (such as
dermatoglyphic ridges and a chimpanzee-like midtarsal
break) that are too subtle and technical to have been generated by inexpert lay pranksters. Likewise, the creature
in the Patterson–Gimlin film is too apelike in its body proportions and locomotion, and too realistic in its surface
anatomy, to be a man wearing an ape costume. Meldrum
concludes from all this that it is reasonable to think that
the sasquatch may be a real animal and that searching
for it is a respectable scientific enterprise.
Meldrum (like the late Grover Krantz) suspects that
the sasquatch is a descendant of the horse-sized Miocene
primate Gigantopithecus, which survived into the Pleistocene in Southeast Asia and might have entered North
America during a Pleistocene interglacial. The trouble
with this account is that Gigantopithecus was not a hominin and maybe not even a crown-group hominoid; yet
the physical evidence implies that today’s Bigfoot is an
upright biped with buttocks and a long, stout, permanently adducted hallux. These are hominin autapomorphies, not found in other mammals or other bipeds. It
seems unlikely that Gigantopithecus would have evolved
these uniquely hominin traits in parallel. If Bigfoot
exists, it is surely a hominin. And because the Bigfoot in
the Patterson–Gimlin film walks with flexed knees, like
a bipedal chimpanzee, the logical conclusion from all this
is that it is either a non-Homo hominin—a surviving
australopithecine—or else a costumed human trying to
walk like a bipedal chimpanzee. Taking the physical evidence at face value thus suggests that Pleistocene australopithecines managed to outrace Homo to the New
World. Maybe so. But in the absence of a sasquatch specimen or an australopithecine fossil anywhere outside of
Africa, that proposition is going to be a hard sell.
More tightly organized and closely reasoned than Meldrum’s book, Daegling’s attack on the Bigfoot legend is
for the most part a model of scrupulous scientific argument. Daegling examines the evidence bearing on the
natural history of the sasquatch and concludes that
there is no theoretical reason why such a creature could
not exist and make a living in the forests of the American Northwest. Skeptics who deny the reality of Bigfoot
are therefore obliged to explain away all the purported
sightings and traces. Daegling accordingly devotes most
of his book to showing that the sightings could have
been mistaken and that the traces could have been misinterpreted or faked. His dissection of the spoors, traces,
and photos of Bigfoot examines the supposed evidence in
its social and human context, and reveals a number of
discreditable facts that Meldrum omits or glosses over.
These facts include the sorry history of the fraudulent
‘‘Homo pongoides’’ cadaver published by the eminent
cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans; the financial shenanigans surrounding the ‘‘Cripplefoot’’ prints (of a
deformed sasquatch foot) found at Bossburg, Washington; and the widespread conviction among many leading
Bigfoot advocates that the late Paul Freeman (the most
successful of all sasquatch hunters and one of Meldrum’s
prime sources) was faking his traces and photos. Daegling recounts the experimental inquiry that he and Dan
Schmitt undertook on the Patterson–Gimlin film, which
led them to conclude that it could easily have been just a
dressed-up human. But they could not rule out the possibility that it might have been something else.
Sasquatch sightings and footprints have been reported
from every state in the country except Rhode Island.
This distribution is more suggestive of a myth than of a
mammal. And yet Meldrum apparently takes it seriously. Describing the dermatoglyphics on some convincing sasquatch footprints, he notes in passing that they
were found in Georgia. But he doesn’t follow out the
implications of that fact, which implies a pan-continental
range for this elusive giant primate. Daegling narrates
the journalistic, social, and economic history of another
East Coast Bigfoot manifestation, the Bardin Booger
from his own state of Florida. This apelike mythic creature serves the citizens of Putnam County as a sort of
kachina—at once a tourist attraction, a bogeyman, and a
ritual clown that performs at local events and offers up
political commentary in the newspapers.
For Daegling, the fundamental question is this: why
do people report encounters with an animal that doesn’t
exist? He proposes that Americans see sasquatches
where there are none because Bigfoot functions in our
culture as an ‘‘ecomessiah,’’ a tutelary deity of the vanishing domain of wild nature. But as Daegling knows,
hairy, bestial bipeds living in the wilderness are archetypal myths found all over the world. They recur
throughout the history of Western art and literature
(J.B. Friedman, The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art
and Thought [1981]). The ancient Greeks knew of them
as gorillai (a word later applied to the real African ape),
medieval Englishmen called them wodewoses, and we
call them sasquatches. To me, the wide and deep distribution of the archetype of the Wild Man of the Woods
suggests that something more fundamental is going on
here. Perhaps, like Swift’s Yahoos, the Wild Man is a
kind of unscientific refraction of the facts of primatology:
a signal to us and our children that without our culture
and traditions, humans would be little more than a species of big, bipedal monkey.
For Daegling and most other physical anthropologists,
the sasquatch is an amusing and intriguing legend,
which deserves to be neither dismissed out of hand nor
Frans de Waal. Edited by Stephen Macedo and Josiah
Ober. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 2006
209 pp. ISBN 0-691-12447-7. $22.95 (hardcover).
One would typically expect that the evolution of morality in humans and nonhuman primates is a line of inquiry beyond the bounds of science and best suited to
philosophical debate. And yet Frans de Waal in Primates
and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved succeeds in
placing the topic firmly within the realm of scientific
taken very seriously. If somebody brings in a specimen,
we will all be eager to look at it; but until then, we have
little interest in spending our lives sifting through a
mountain of balderdash to see if it contains any nuggets
of truth. This attitude drives Meldrum crazy. Throughout his book, he complains indignantly about his
lazy colleagues who ‘‘are content to remain aloof
[and] . . . passively challenge, ‘Show me the body’ ’’ (p.
44). But what else are we supposed to do? Many of the
supposed Bigfoot traces are clearly hoaxes. Others might
be genuine, but none of them is beyond the scope of ingenious trickery. The only way to settle the issue is to
show us a specimen. Nothing less will do, because footprints, photos, and video can always be faked to whatever degree of precision it takes to gull the experts. As
Daegling observes, experts think they are too expert to
be fooled, and so they are easy to fool. This is especially
true if the pranksters are themselves experts or are
clever enough to pick up some expertise from the literature. Remember Piltdown?
What Meldrum chiefly wants, I think, is not that we
accept the reality of Bigfoot or compete in the search for
the type specimen, but that we honor his own commitment to that search as a legitimate scientific enterprise.
I think we owe him that. If the chances that Bigfoot is
real are (say) 10,000 to 1 against, having one physical
anthropologist devoting half his life to searching for it is
roughly an appropriate allocation of our profession’s
resources. Meldrum deserves to be criticized dispassionately and offered sincere advice, and not to be covered in
the sort of scorn and abuse that has been hurled in his
direction by some of his colleagues at Idaho State
(Chronicle of Higher Education, August 4, 2006, A44).
For my part, I’m happy to see him out there in the
North Woods on the trail of the sasquatch. I hope he
finds one. But I feel mortally certain that he won’t, and
that he is wasting his professional life in the search. We
may be obliged to respect his decision to do that, but we
are not obliged to follow his example.
Department of Biological Anthropology
and Anatomy, Duke University
Durham, North Carolina
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20691
Published online 31 July 2007 in Wiley InterScience
investigation. This book reprints the text of the 2004
Tanner Lecture on the evolution of morality in nonhuman primates and humans delivered by Frans de Waal
at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values. This
is the principal topic of the book and forms the foundation of much of the printed discourse that follows. There
are additional sections authored by de Waal on anthropomorphism, the theory of mind in apes, and animal
rights. de Waal’s contributions are followed by a series of
commentaries by Robert Wright, Christine M. Korsgaard, Philip Kitcher, and Peter Singer, all philosophers
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
of science with different research specializations, who
dissect various elements of de Waal’s thesis on the evolution of morality. The book ends with a section in which
de Waal responds to each commentator’s criticisms.
The core of this book, and the reason to read it, is de
Waal’s short, 58-page essay, ‘‘Morality Evolved: Primate
Social Instincts, Human Morality, and the Rise and Fall
of the Veneer Theory.’’ Here, he presents his thesis on
the continuity in the capacity for moral behavior
between humans and nonhuman primates, especially
between humans and other hominoids. His choice to
focus on the evidence for continuity between humans
and other anthropoids is exceptional given that the tradition, both scientific and philosophical, is to focus on
the discontinuities or those traits that make humans
exceptional or unique. For de Waal, the issue appears
not to be whether human definitions of morality can be
applied to chimpanzees or other primates. Instead, ‘‘the
relevant question rather is whether [nonhuman primates] possess capacities for reciprocity and revenge, for
the enforcement of social rules, for the settlement of disputes, and for sympathy and empathy’’ (p 16). de Waal
then marshals an impressive argument based on history,
philosophy, and even current research in cognitive neuroscience to elaborate on the traits underlying moral reasoning in humans and the linkage of these to observations of nonhuman primates. He does not settle many
issues with this essay, but he does firmly establish the
question as scientifically relevant. Indeed, he will likely
instigate many research projects based solely on the
number of testable hypotheses he implies. This strictly
evolutionary hypothesis of moral capacities is offered in
contrast to what de Waal calls the Veneer Theory, the
(possibly widely held) belief that moral behavior is a
thin, external ‘‘veneer’’ over the selfish, amoral (or
immoral) core. Although his response to Veneer Theory
is multifaceted, it is when the underlying nonbiological
core of this argument is exposed that de Waal is most
successful in rejecting it.
It is among the commentaries that this book makes
for slow and sometimes painful reading. There is a great
G. Axinn and Lisa D. Pearce. New York: Cambridge
University Press. 2006. 230 pp. ISBN 0-521-85568-3.
$70.00 (hardcover).
Mixed method approaches are those that combine elements of one method of data collection with elements of
one or more other data collection methods. The use of
such approaches appears to be increasing in the social
sciences, although it is, to varying degrees, the default
approach among biocultural, biological, and some cultural anthropology investigators. As such, some of the
arguments in Axinn and Pearce’s book Mixed Method
Data Collection Strategies may seem old hat for anthropologists, especially the readers of this journal. What
then does an anthropologist who already relies on mixed
methods have to gain from this book?
First, Axinn and Pearce lay out a convincing and
powerful rationale for why mixed method approaches
add value to studies. They rightfully point that mixing
deal of quibbling about semantics (read lots of words in
quotes, like ‘‘building blocks,’’ ‘‘naturalistic,’’ etc.). Each
commentator picks up a thread of de Waal’s argument
and raises objections—at times not without merit. All
the commentators object in some manner to de Waal’s
treatment of Veneer Theory. For example, Wright finds
de Waal’s characterization of Veneer Theory as too simplistic to warrant serious consideration. Singer agrees
and instead wonders how much of moral behavior is the
result of underlying moral capability and how much is
due to ‘‘veneer.’’ I sensed that the commentators are, to
varying degrees, not yet ready to reject the possibility
that human moral behavior is a strategy to satisfy our
selfish needs and motives within the constraints of
human culture. However, what is most frustrating to me
is the seeming unwillingness of these commentators to
debate de Waal’s interpretation of the data. The problem
is, I suspect, that the use of a term like ‘‘moral’’ carries a
deeper connotation to philosophers, who have debated
the topic for millennia, than the more restricted sense
intended by a behavioral biologist. Possibly for this reason, Wright, Korsgaard, Kitcher, and Singer largely
ignore de Waal’s core arguments and supporting data, as
well as his notable anecdotes.
For my purposes, and I believe for the anthropological
audience as well, I find de Waal’s labors to bring topics
like conciliation, reciprocity, and empathy into the realm
of the quantifiable to have greater value than the
semantic and tangential arguments leveled by his commentators and critics.
Department of Anatomy
Midwestern University
Glendale, AZ
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20692
Published online 31 July 2007 in Wiley InterScience
methods ensure complementarity by counterbalancing
strengths and weakness inherent in all methods. Mixing
data collection strategies also generates ‘‘a comprehensive empirical record about a topic’’ (p. 2) and invites
greater investigator involvement in data collection. The
authors clearly believe that greater involvement yields
higher quality data. Nor are those who do secondary
data analysis of the hook. Several suggestions for their
deeper involvement are made, and I particularly enjoyed
the suggestion that researchers give or sit through the
interview themselves—something that would shock people who have never collected primary data! In laying out
the rationale for using mixed methods the book is also
an extended critique of the outdated qualitative–quantitative dichotomy that continues to plague the social
Second, because of the sociological background of the
authors, the book covers a number of methodological
issues related to causality and levels of analysis that are
covered less frequently by anthropological texts. There is
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
also considerable discussion of using data collected from
mixed methods and the process of translating data into
a form that can be used in statistical models; this process is not always so straightforward. These are subthemes within a larger discussion that speaks to the
need to think deeply about how to collect data at varying
levels and across time, as required by multilevel longitudinal studies.
Third, although not a methods text per se, the book
does provide examples of several innovative techniques
that will be of much use to anthropologists. Chief among
these hybrid methods are event history calendars,
although the authors also cover the thought-provoking
approach of systematic anomalous case analysis. The
two specific calendars illustrated in the book are the
neighborhood history calendar and the life history calendar. These are visual approaches used to assist respondents as they fill in biographical elements of their lives or
their neighborhoods or communities. This innovative
technique requires substantial initial investment to ascertain events that are relevant to study participants, as
these events become markers of time that respondents
rely on to place events in chronological order. This initial
investment leads to huge future returns, including
greater knowledge of the study participants, study site,
area history, and key informants, and generates hypotheses that can be subsequently tested. Many field anthropologists do this kind of work already; however, Axinn
and Pearce’s method adds slightly more structure and
yields a survey instrument that is locally and culturally
appropriate. The result is a data collection tool that is
flexible enough to be used among communities where literacy rates are low, when dates and ages are known
only by a few, and when historical records are nonexistent. The approach also can yield data on overlapping
events, which might be difficult to get in more standard
survey methods. As social scientists become increasingly
interested in longitudinal designs and area-level effects,
data collection instruments must become increasingly so-
phisticated to capture this information in the correct
order and at the corresponding level. The tools developed
by Axinn and colleagues are well suited to meet these
Mixed Method Data Collection Strategies is not a
replacement for Russell Bernard’s immensely helpful
book, Research Methods in Anthropology, nor do Axinn
and Pearce intend it to be. Only a small number of specific methods are covered and some mixed methods techniques that are garnering increasing attention, like cultural consensus modeling, are nowhere mentioned. That
is not a drawback but rather an argument to also use a
mixed textbook approach; for example, Axinn and Pearce’s book in conjunction with Bernard’s book would be a
great combo for a methods course. I suspect that many
biocultural researchers will feel that anthropologists are
underrepresented throughout the book and the bibliography. The examples and supporting citations are heavily
slanted toward Axinn and colleagues’ own research, and
lots of the material seems to have appeared in other
forms elsewhere; but this is not a disadvantage. Rather,
it makes available to biological anthropologists a literature previously unknown to them and in a single source.
Mixed Method Data Collection Strategies is an enjoyable
read in which the arguments for utilizing the mixed
methods approach are powerfully laid out and their
strengths and limitations are honestly presented.
Department of Anthropology
Emory University
Atlanta, Georgia
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20693
Published online 8 August 2007 in Wiley InterScience
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
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